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School transport hits a roadblock

When the Minister of Finance announced in his last Budget speech that the Education Ministry would be providing free transport for students in Church and independent schools, most road users, as well as parents, breathed a sigh of relief.

Malta’s notorious traffic problems are in part caused by the common practice of parents using their cars to ferry children to and from school. A few weeks before schools reopen, it seems that, not only are parents not informed on what arrangements are being made for their children’s transport but not even heads of schools are aware of what the Education Ministry is doing on this issue.

Parents have every right to feel let down by the Education Minister who is ultimately politically responsible for delivering what has been promised by the government months ago.

It seems that negotiations to reach an agreement with private transport providers and with supervisors, to ensure children travel safely, have hit a roadblock. Some may argue that reaching an agreement on providing transport to schoolchildren is not rocket science. They wonder what management skills exist within the Education Ministry to ensure the smooth running of our schools in all aspects. Heads of school fret about the confusion that seems to exist whenever a new process is managed by the Education Ministry.

When this newspaper asked the ministry for an update on the proposed free transport system for Church and independent schools, the ministry failed to reply. This condescending attitude verges on the arrogant and is symptomatic of certain public service organisations whose sole reason for existence should be to serve the public.

Will the Education Minister order a management audit to see why so many parents and heads of school have been shortchanged on a promise to provide free school transport and ease traffic congestion?

Many rightly wonder why the Education Ministry undertook to organise this transport service if it does not have the skills to do so. Would it not have been more cost effective to give parents of children using transport organised by private schools a tax rebate that is capped to avoid profiteering byservice providers?

There is no shortage of customer service units and officials employed in government departments. So taxpayers have every right to ask why the government only pays customer care lip service. The reality that the public often faces is that their concerns are rarely given the attention they deserve. The way the Education Ministry is keeping school heads and parents in the dark is a typical example of insensitivity to citizens’ concerns about public service, on which they depend to ease the stress of their daily lives.

The least the Education Ministry can do is to publicly apologise to school heads and parents about the failure to communicate on what transport arrangements will be in place in a few weeks’ time when students start their new scholastic year.

If the stalemate in negotiations to provide free transport persist, the government should have a plan B to encourage parents to use organised transport even by granting them a capped tax rebate on transport costs.

The Education Ministry has, at times, shown that its management systems are at best inefficient. Taxpayers have every right to expect value for money in the provision of public services.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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